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Sunday, September 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Sonics
Turkish shooter to sign with Sonics

By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist

Ibrahim Kutluay is labeled as one-dimensional.
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For a team that won only 37 games last year, the Sonics have been quiet in the offseason.

That could change slightly this week.

The Sonics are expected to offer a two-year contract to Turkish swingman Ibrahim Kutluay, who made 12 of 23 three-pointers and scored 19 and 26 points in Turkey's two pre-Olympic games against the United States.

"It's not official, but it's close," Sonics general manager Rick Sund said yesterday. "(Coach) Nate McMillan really wants to get another shooter. He called me and said, 'What about this kid?' "

Kutluay, who turned 30 in July, will arrive in Seattle today and take a physical, probably tomorrow, before signing what is said to be a two-year contract worth $3.36 million.

"He's one of the five best shooters in Europe," said one NBA coach, who asked not to be identified. "But defense? I think he can spell the first four letters."

Nicknamed "Ibo," the 6-foot-6 Kutluay joins his Turkish national teammates, Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu and Utah's Mehmet Okur, in the NBA.

"When I play good in those games I think why not try to go over there," Kutluay said yesterday from his mobile phone in Turkey. "I had offers before, but I had a good contract in Europe and I never took the offers seriously.

"But when Seattle made me an offer, Ray Allen is my idol and it will be a dream come true to play with him. I like Seattle. I like the way they play and I like the coach. Of course this is the highlight of my career. I did so many things for the Turkish people and now, after my career in Europe, I'm excited to play in the NBA. This is a big decision for me."
 
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He is considered the most popular player in Turkey. His longtime relationship with model and singer Demet Akalin was great fodder for the Turkish gossip columnists. He now is in a relationship with Demet Sener, a model and former Miss Turkey.

"He is the beloved son of Turkey basketball," said Kaan Kural, a commentator on NBA games for Turkish television. "He is good-looking and has a heart-warming smile. He is a public-relations god."

More than his good looks, his good touch caught the Sonics' attention. The hope is Kutluay's shooting can help mask the loss of free agent Brent Barry to San Antonio.

"He was a leader of the Turkish national team and now, for us to get a leader who will be happy to be our fourth or fifth guard could be really good for us," Sund said. "Make no mistake, we're going to miss Brent's outside shooting. But, for this kid whose dream is to be an NBA player, we think he will accept a supporting role.

"We're not looking for him to play 35 minutes a night. We're looking at him as kind of a specialist, like a Vinny Del Negro or a Steve Kerr was."

Kutluay said yesterday he understands that the Sonics have given him no guarantees about playing time.

"It is in my hands. I have to adjust quick and I will work hard," said Kutluay, who is taking a generous pay cut to play with the Sonics. "I know I will have some difficulties, of course, but I can play. I am a very good player, and I will do a good job this year."

He was asked about his defensive lapses.

"I'll have to work on my defense," he said. "But I will adjust. I don't think playing defense in the NBA is going to be a big problem."

Kutluay grew up a soccer fan, often traveling more than 1,000 miles to watch his beloved Fenerbahce play.

But one day he picked up a basketball and fell in love with the game.

He played for Fenerbahce's basketball team, but the club was more committed to its soccer team. He went to Efes Pilsen and took it to its first-ever European Final Four, then in 2000 signed with AEK of Greece.

In 2001 Turkey hosted the European Championships and lost in the championship game to Serbia-Montenegro. It is considered the greatest achievement in Turkish basketball, and Kutluay was one of its stars.

He played for Panathinakos, the Lakers of Greece, in 2001 and 2002, but lost his starting spot in 2002. Last year he played for the Turkish team Ulker.

"He had a dull season," Kural said, "but then came alive in the games against the USA. He's reached such a status in Turkey that no one seems to realize that he occasionally forgets to come up with the goods. Everyone only remembers the good things he's done. It's like no one believes he can ever fail.

"Kutluay is a one-dimensional player. He is a streaky shooter, and when his jumper is on, it is on. But in other areas, in my opinion, he might struggle. He can't create his own shot. In Europe that is not a big problem. But in the NBA style where swingmen are occasionally expected to create for themselves, that could give him a great problem.

"The strong and athletic American players still give the European players trouble. That's what he must avoid, but how he can do it is beyond me. He is not good handling the ball or passing. He is a catch-and-shoot player and needs many of Danny Fortson's picks.

"But I've watched him for seven years and I've learned never to second-guess Kutluay. He will be just a fringe player, but he will be a positive influence, because above all, he's a big-time winner."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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